This year is shaping up to be the year of eye health innovation. With more and more people realizing how important eye health is, and how ineffective current treatments like surgery are, researchers are hard at work trying to devise different medications to improve vision conditions.
Until now, the only way to treat congenital cataracts has been with surgery. As you know, surgery is an invasive process that can sometimes leave your eyes worse off than before. Those are not the results you want, let alone if you’re going to be spending thousands and thousands of dollars on the procedure.
Luckily, more people are realizing that surgery is not a viable treatment anymore. As technology and medicine constantly evolve and improve, it only makes sense that scientists are looking for new methods to treat eye diseases and conditions. The best part is, this new regenerative approach is almost natural.
This new regenerative medicine will target treating those with congenital cataracts. Unlike regular cataracts which occur as a result of aging, congenital cataracts are often a result of a birth defect. This is a rare occurrence though.
Those people have no choice but to live with it; and worse, won’t have their youth to enjoy their eyes before they age. The clouding of the lens is the same in both cataracts and congenital cataracts however symptoms between the two can vary. The symptoms are especially important to know for new parents.
Some symptoms are:
- Lack of awareness: if your baby has no awareness or seems to not have awareness of their surroundings, this can be an indication of congenital cataracts in both eyes.
- Unusual rapid eye movements
- Gray or white cloudiness in the pupil
- “Red eye glow” in photographs is missing: although this one may be a little dated as most cameras now have an anti-red eye function.
Some forms of mild congenital cataracts will not have any effect on a person’s vision. If it affects both eyes and the person can see fine through both, the cataracts may not even need treatment.
However those with more serious congenital cataracts will most likely need to treat them with cataract removal surgery. For the time being, surgery is the only way to treat congenital cataracts. Hopefully things change soon as doctors work to find a better solution to treating congenital cataracts.
Cataract Removal Surgery
Before we talk about the new and emerging method of cataract treatment, it’s important to understand the surgery we use today. Whether we like it or not, it did help shape the new regenerative medicine that is in the works.
The gist of this type of surgery is pretty self-evident based on the name. The surgery removes the clouded lens (the cataract) and replaces it with an artificial lens.
The lens can be removed in one of three ways:
- Phacoemulsification, which uses sound waves to break up the lens into smaller pieces and then suctions it up.
- Extracapsular extraction, uses a tool to remove the lens in mostly one piece, and involves a large incision.
- Doctors will perform laser surgery to soften the cataract and make the incision in the eye. The laser then breaks up the lens into smaller pieces like with phacoemulsification, but uses a laser instead of a knife to cut.
After doctors remove the lens, they place the artificial one inside the eye. This new lens can also be called an intraocular lens, or simply IOL. Sometimes stitches will be used to close the point of incision, which will need to be taken out later.
Though the surgery lasts less than a half hour, you can see where things might go wrong. Lasers can burn eyes, and there’s room for error when it comes to surgery. Some people have also reported reforming cataracts on the new lens.
There is no guarantee with cataract surgery. With the dangers involved, it doesn’t seem worth it. Not to mention you’d be making a very sizable dent in your bank account for a treatment that may or may not work.
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New Regenerative Medicine: The Way of the Future
Researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and Shiley Eye Institute, along with co-researcher in China have been hard at work developing a new medicine that will help cells regenerate to create natural lenses.
As it stands now, this regenerative medicine will not replace cataract surgery altogether. The lens has to be removed somehow, and that somehow is through the previously mentioned methods. However, this stem cell research will provide an alternative to the artificial lens.
There are several reasons why this research is important even if, for the time being, won’t replace surgery. The human body is wonderfully complex. As an organism that is self-healing, a regenerative medicine will give your eyes the push it needs to regenerate a new lens.
Think of a broken leg. For it to heal, a doctor would realign it, put it in a cast and tell you to keep off of it while it heals. Your body subsequently does the rest. This is what this new medicine would do. An artificial lens is a crutch not a solution. If the eye can regenerate a new lens from its own tissues, this would open up a whole other world to study.
Regenerative medicine will help better understand what the body needs for it to heal on its own, without having to implement falsities and prosthetics. Especially in infants whom are normally on the receiving end of congenital cataract surgery. If a baby can use its body’s own regenerative powers to heal, it will be better for them in the long run.
As mentioned, sometimes cataract surgery doesn’t always stick. Cataracts can return. And sometimes patients will need corrective eyewear, like contacts or glasses for activities such as reading or driving. Researchers hope that regenerative medicine for the lens will cause a shift and ultimately make cataract surgery needless.
Though this medicine has yet to be tested on age-related cataracts, research is being conducted to see if it would be possible to achieve. Something tells us it will be.
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